Bone & Ivory Carving Tools

Written by joshua smyth | 13/05/2017
Bone & Ivory Carving Tools
Carved knife handles are a common use of ivory. (Jonathan Kantor/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Ivory, which is a dentine material from the tusks of animals, such as elephants and narwhals, is an off-white material with a dense grain that allows very subtle carving. Although elephant ivory is illegal, it is sometimes possible to buy other types. Otherwise, bone has the same properties as ivory, albeit with a rougher grain and is often used instead. Ivory and bone carving uses many of the same tools as detail carving in wood.

Fret Saw and Blades

A fret saw is a small hacksaw with a tensioned blade. Blades with 16 or 18 teeth per inch are best for ivory and bone carving, and are usually available through jeweller's supply companies.


Files are tools with rough surfaces used to grind down the object being shaped. Ivory and bone are tough materials, so it is best to have the coarsest files possible in a variety of sizes, both flat and round.


Gravers are tiny chisels made out of high-quality steel. They are used to cut designs into the ivory or bone. The quality of a graver makes a great deal of difference to the quality of the carving, so it is best to consult other artisans working with ivory and bone before buying a set.

Leather Rice Bag

A leather bag full of dry rice provides a firm, supportive surface for a carving to sit on while being carved. This is better than using a vice to hold the carving, as a vice risks snapping it.


Several grades of wet and dry sandpaper, from coarse to fine, will be used through the course of polishing any ivory or bone carving project. The coarse paper eliminates tool scratches, while the finer grades buff the carving until it shines.


As with wood, ivory and bone can be drilled. This is useful if the carver wishes to put a hole through the piece or dig a pit into it.


Ivory and bone are strong enough for turned work and can be set on a lathe. This allows the carver to spin the ivory or bone piece and cut it into shape with small chisels.

Powered Carving Burrs

Rotating abrasive tips that attach to drills can be used to shape ivory and bone, and to clean out the marrow from the bone's interior.

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